Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rethinking Fathers' Rights

By Dahlia Lithwick

Every few years, some father who believes he's been wronged by the family-court system grabs headlines and draws attention to the flawed ways in which we split up families. Custody proceedings are often brutal and adversarial. Otherwise-fit parents can be drawn into a bare-knuckle fight over who poses a greater danger to the children. (Consider the recent Christie Brinkley custody spectacle, in which allegations of Dad's porn use and Mom's overreliance on nannies became Exhibits A and B, although both facts were legally immaterial.)

Despite the fact that divorce is rarely triggered by violence or abuse, the incentives to allege that a man is abusive and out of control are undeniable. They tap into age-old stereotypes about men and ensure that Mom becomes the primary custodian. Even without abuse allegations, simple rules of physics (one child cannot be split into two and two cannot be split into four) make it likely that many good fathers will be downgraded from full-time dads to alternating-weekend-carpool dads. They will be asked to pay at least one-third of their salaries in child support for that privilege. Simple rules of modern life make it likely that an ex-wife will someday decide that a job or new husband demands a move to a faraway state. At which point the alternating-weekend-carpool dad is again demoted—to a Thanksgivings-if-you're-lucky dad.

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